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Exit Matt…

end ms

WARNING: This post contains spoilers if you haven’t got through to the end of the most recent series yet. If you still need to catch up on a few episodes but keep reading, and find out what happens, don’t moan and whine to me about having it spoiled ok? You’ve been warned…

So, all the rumours were true then. Matt Smith IS leaving Doctor Who at the end of the year, and will regenerate in the Christmas Special into a new Doctor.

< Deep sigh >

I thought I’d be more upset when this news broke – as all fans of the show knew it would, one day – like I was when David Tennant left. I thought I’d be in for A Bad Day as it sank in that Matt, MY Doctor, was going to be leaving the TARDIS… but I’m ok. No, really, I am. I’m sad, yes, very sad, because I’ll really miss watching him in the role, but I’ve been thinking for a while that it’s time for a change, that it was time for a new face to look at me from across the other side of the TARDIS console.

Not, I hasten to add, because of anything Matt himself has done, oh no no no!! He’s never been less than brilliant, one of the best actors ever to play The Doctor. He’s owned that role ever since he first popped that big, strangely-shaped head of his over the doorframe of the TARDIS at the start of “The Eleventh Hour”, dripping wet, bedraggled, and looking more like a naughty schoolboy than a travel-weary Time Lord, and by the end of that episode he OWNED the role, just put it on like a comfortable jacket and he WAS The Doctor. In the four years since then he’s made even the duffest of duff scripts (and there have been a few of those lately, which I’ll come to in a moment. Give me time, I’m just cranking up here…) enjoyable. Remember how glorious he was in “Pandorica”, how touching he was with Amy, how baffled he was by River. Remember how he strutted across the universe in “A Good an Goes To War”.

But… but

Recently he’s been ill-served by the writers, and – and this is hard for me to say – his Doctor has become a caricature of itself. In his previous seasons the eleventh Doctor has always been silly, of course, awkward and gangly, but that was balanced with a very dark and serious side, a noble side which meant in his quiet moments you really could believe he was this amazing Time traveller who had seen, and done, truly terrible things, had guilt deep enough to drown in, and worse. But through this season he’s been reduced to a bumbling clown, lurching from one slapstick scene to the next, increasingly frantic and frenetic. Matt, ever the professional, and obviously totally loyal to the show and in love with the role, never gave less than his best, but it’s been quite hard to watch at times, I’ve felt sorry for him. Gone were the spine-tingling speeches – remember him standing on Stonehenge, arrogantly telling that huge alien space fleet hovering over him to come and have a go if they thought they were hard enough? – and gone were the truly gut-wrenching scenes of introspection and self doubt. Instead we had ever faster arm twirling, increasingly silly punchlines and ridiculous situations. When he was flipping between himself and the Cyber Controller in the Cyberman episode I thought he was going to blow up, he was so manic. It was unnecessarily manic, but he made the most of the material he was given and followed orders, as all actors have to. Matt deserves better than that. The Doctor deserves better than that. I hope the next season’s writers get their collective fingers out and write some really good stories to remind us of the brilliance the show is capable of.

I love the show, as you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, but I’m not blindly loyal, and I have to say that this last season of Doctor Who was a bit of a dog’s dinner to be honest. For a start, and fundamental to its failure I think, splitting it in two like they did was a stroke of absolute IDIOCY. Whoever had that idea needs a good kick up the arse. It meant there was no momentum, we lost track of the story arcs, and it made us care less about Clara. Because of that, in the final episode her brave and noble sacrifice meant nothing, NOTHING, because we hadn’t been able to really connect with her or her journey. Jenna Louise Coleman was brilliant throughout the season, illuminating the screen whenever she was on it, but again the writers let her down and let her down badly. She ended up just being “quirky and witty girl”, always ready with a smart one liner. Occasionaly, just occasionally, we saw some of her depth, but those moments were few and far between. After such a jaw droppingly fantastic debut in “Asylum of the Daleks” I felt Clara was criminally wasted throughout the series, which was a great shame.

But really, the writing was the main fault with this series, and at times it left me thinking what was previously unthinkable – maybe it’s time to give the show a rest again. Not for long, maybe just a year, just time for it to go away, sit on a beach somewhere, eating ice cream and enjoying the peace and quiet, you know? Because it’s looking, and feeling, tired, wrung out.

Oh, the writing was shocking in places. Not just bad, but, worse, small. Great ideas, magnificent ideas, were left unrealised. Somehow the writer of “Journey to the Centre of The Tardis” made it feel smaller on the inside than it is on the outside, that was a shocking let down of an episode. There was scope there to make the TARDIS feel like the mighty science fiction cathedral it is, but it came across as just a collection of rooms which looked like they’d been designed by a rushing Lawrence Llewelyn Bowen on a budget. Somehow, after the brilliance of “The Doctor’s Wife”,  Neil Absolute Genius Gaiman completely f****d up his Cyberman story, stripping them of all sense of malevolence and danger and turning them, lazily, into the Borg from Star Trek. Yes, they looked more modern, more streamlined, but they’re still – and this is why I’ve never liked them, ever – just big clanky silvery robot men, with no character, no real back story and no epic quality about them. And those annoying kids! What the **** was THAT about?! Where did THEY come from?! WHAT were they THERE for?!?! That was just… well… embarrassing.

There were highlights, to be fair. I loved “Hide”, really got into that one, mainly I think because the acting was just so excellent, from everyone. Ridiculous story, again, but one you could actually believe in because of the performances which were warm, and deep, and convincing. Joy ran through that episode like a mineral vein through granite. I enjoyed “Cold War” for the same reason – great actors all, giving great performances – and it was nice to see the Ice Warriors back again, despite the ridiculous, tagged-on-in-a-hurry ending. “Crimson Horror” was a typical Mark Gatiss episode, a bit of a silly story with great comic scenes and character relationships (a very welcome return for Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, who are a fantastic team and are surely destined for a spin off series, or at least a special, one day). Again, great acting all round.

But some of the acting.. dear god… The blokes playing the salvage crew in “Journey” were so bad, so awful, my eyes hurt watching them. I hadn’t seen acting that wooden in Who since Bonnie Langford. They made K9 seem like Ian McKellen. Shocking.

So, yes, this season was disappointing, especially after the brilliance of last season, which was masterful in places and never less than hugely enjoyable. After the Christmas Special, which introduced Clara properly, my hopes were so high I could stand on them to change a lightbulb. But oh dear… such a disappointment.

And now Matt is leaving, and although I’m very sad about that I’m not Tennant-sad. When David Tennant announced he was leaving I thought “No! There’s so much more you can do!” But I don’t think there’s much more Matt can do with the show as it is now. It’s become a bit too smug, a bit too self-worshipping. It’s okay – and lovely – to have the occasional nod to the old series, to fill in a gap in the legend, we like that, it connects us to the past, but they over did it this series, it was as if they were desperate to please the old fans they forgot to try and impress new ones.

I think one big problem was that the 50th Anniversary was looming on the horizon, and this series was always only ever going to be the warm up act for that, no matter what they did. So maybe that’s why this season’s stories felt like the filler tracks on an album. It was as if they just wanted to get this series out of the way so they could do a brilliant 50th Anniversary special to really do the Time Lord and his story justice.

The last episode, “The Name Of The Doctor”, brought the series back from the brink of banality with some truly inspired moments, despite having a plot with Time travel wibbly wobbly holes in it so big you could push a small moon through them, and that gives me hope for The Special. Yeah, they’ll get that right.

But after that? After Matt regenerates into someone else? They’ve got some serious work to do in the writing room, some *serious* work, if they’re to breath some much needed life into the show.

I’m not going to end this post by saying thank you or goodbye to Matt, not yet, because it’s not time for that yet. He’s still The Doctor – MY Doctor – until Christmas Day, when he will go out – literally, I expect – in a blaze of regenerating glory, shattering windows and breaking hearts across the world. ( And for the first time in years I’ll actually be able to watch the Christmas Day episode live, because I’m at work in the morning and not the evening, so that works out rather well for once!) Until then, here we are again, we’re now in wild “Who will be the next Doctor?!?!” speculation mode.

At the moment I honestly don’t care. It will be who it will be. My bet would be another relative unknown, like Matt was when he put on his bow tie, because anyone big, anyone famous, will not be willing to commit so much time to one role, and will already be booked up with work and filming commitments anyway. I hope they find someone brilliant, someone fantastic, because Matt’s shoes – ok, scuffed boots – will be very hard to fill. But, so were David Tennant’s, and Matt filled them just fine, so the next guy will too, I’ve no doubt about that.

But they really, really, really need to give The Next Guy better stories than Matt had as he was hurtling towards Trenzalore. The fans deserve better, but, more importantly, the Doctor deserves better.

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